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Spinel: The Undercover Red Beauty


Spinel: The Undercover Red Beauty

Friday 2nd February 2024

Spinel: The Undercover Red Beauty

Spinel is probably a gemstone that you may not have heard of. Or maybe you have heard of it, but you cannot place it on a spectrum of value and desirability? Perhaps one the world’s most overlooked and underappreciated gemstones, spinel actually has a rich history stretching back centuries! Historically mistaken for a ruby, collectors and investors are today looking to spinels as the market’s understanding and appreciation for this gemstone continues to grow.

So what exactly is a spinel? A gemstone in its own right, their name is actually derived from the Latin word “spinella”, meaning little thorn, due to their sharp crystal formation. Like diamonds, they are part of the cubic crystal system and they form in perfect octahedrons.


Spinel Crystal 

A hard and durable gemstone, spinel scores an 8 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, making it a perfect choice for a piece of jewellery.

Spinels can come in a myriad of colours, including red, pink, orange, blue, violet, green, and black. The finest spinels exhibit a bright and brilliant red, which can be similar in appearance to ruby, leading to historical confusion between the two gemstones. It was only in 1783 that mineralogist Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle developed a test to differentiate between ruby and spinel.


Jean Baptiste Louis Rome de Lisle 

Prior to that, some of the largest and most famous “rubies” in the world have now been revealed to be spinels.

One of the most famous examples is the so-called ‘Black Prince’s ruby’ found on the British Imperial state crown. This historic crimson-red gem is a semi-polished octahedral cabochon with three faces. It first appeared in the historical records of 14th century Spain, and was owned by a succession of Moorish and Spanish Kings before Edward, Prince of Wales, the “Black Prince” received the stone in 1367 as payment for a battle victory.

Since then, many other British monarchs, including Henry VIII, have cherished the gem. It has outlasted them all, surviving fires, attempted thefts, and World Wars, to become one of the centerpieces of the British Crown Jewels.


The Imperial State Crown
Note the 'Black Prince's Ruby' To The Centre

The actual mining of spinel began in Badakhshan (Balascia), a region in the Himalayan mountains of north-eastern Afghanistan, between 750 and 950 A.D., as documented by Marco Polo. These red stones were called “balas rubies”, at a time when all red gemstones were generically termed ‘rubies’. Historically, the grandest and most famous spinels came from the legendary Kuh-i-Lal (“red mountain”) mines on the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, with the Black Prince’s Ruby likely originating from this mine.


The Kuh-i-Lal Mines 

Over the centuries, spinel deposits have been found in various locations around the world, and different geographical sources produce spinels with distinct characteristics. The old mines of Ceylon and Burma, in particular, have historically been some of the most famous and significant sources of vibrant red and pink spinel, causing further confusion, as they form alongside some of the world’s finest rubies!

For centuries, spinels have been overlooked and therefore considered more affordable, but they are becoming increasingly desirable with collectors seeking alternative red gemstones. A stunning gemstone in its own right, and recently named an new birthstone for the month of August, we would be delighted to assist with your quest for your own piece of early, antique or vintage spinel jewellery.

Art Deco Burmese Red Spinel Diamond Ring berganza hatton garden
Art Deco Burmese Red Spinel and Diamond Ring, circa 1925.
Ref: 24803
Art Deco pink spinel and diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Art Deco pink spinel and diamond coronet cluster ring, circa 1920.
Ref: 26605
Burmese red spinel and diamond dress ring hatton garden
Burmese red spinel and diamond dress ring, circa 1970.
Ref: 27950
Burmese red spinel and diamond three stone ring hatton garden
Burmese red spinel and diamond three stone ring, circa 1890.
Ref: 27321
natural purple spinel and diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Edwardian Ceylon pink spinel and diamond coronet cluster ring, circa 1910.
Ref: 25447
Ceylon spinel and diamond cocktail ring berganza hatton garden
Ceylon spinel and diamond cocktail ring, English, circa 1960.
Ref: 26694
Victorian Burmese red spinel diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Victorian Burmese red spinel and diamond three stone ring, circa 1900.
Ref: 20396
Victorian Burmese red spinel diamond ring berganza hatton garden
Victorian Burmese red spinel and diamond three stone ring, circa 1900.
Ref: 20396
Tudor red spinel ring, English, circa 16th century hatton garden
Tudor red spinel ring, English, circa 16th century.
Ref: 27575
diamond spinel ring berganza hatton garden
Victorian spinel five stone ring, English, circa 1890.
Ref: 13730
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Updated 20/04/2024 at 2:34PM

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